These are difficult and uncertain times. Our Kokikai leadership has asked for a suspension of classes, as we respect the counsel of professionals and engage in “social distancing”.
Aikido roughly translates as “the way of harmony with ki”. One of our challenges is to “stay on the path”, keep the “way”, understand the “do”.
Without classes and partner practice, we are being asked to look to more solitary practices as a path for the time being. Fortunately our tradition provides us with opportunities. I will touch on two “practices” which I engage in and find helpful. The first is Meditation, and the second will be a specific Ki Development exercise, Shomenuchi Undo, which we can do standing and walking.
Although I tried and practiced meditation off and on at different times in my life, it has only been in the last five years that I have had a regular practice. The suggestions below are not from a “meditation expert” – I am far from that. Rather, it comes from someone who has practiced Aikido for almost 40 years, and appreciates how it has enriched my Aikido and life. My suggestions are more “tips” on what has helped me.
Sensei sometimes stops in the middle of teaching and asks “What are we doing here in Aikido?”. One of his answers is “training instinct”. The training of instinct comes from the repetition of activity in a proper way. I believe that meditation trains instinct, consistent with our Aikido basic interests.
Although there is, or can be, a strong spiritual aspect to meditation, I will leave that aside, and focus more on correct posture and positive mind. The following are tips and suggestions:
- find a comfortable quiet space and let that be your main spot for meditation
a best time of the day for meditation, and let that be your main time for
- for me, I wake up before my partner, make tea, and sit before others wake up
a set time for meditation
- I use my iPhone timer
- I set it for 23 minutes (someone once told me this was an auspicious period of time!)
- when you are starting it is ok to set it for much less – it’s like doing push-ups – it will be easier to do more as you build up your “strength”
your “seat” and find “correct posture”
- this is important, and so in
touch with our Aikido practice – the following are simply my tips:
- have cushions to sit on so your legs fold comfortably
- I like to sit in half-lotus but I recently injured my knee so my legs don’t cross (this too will pass!)
- Once I sit, I like to begin by putting my hands on my knees like in seiza, and pushing the knees out a bit as I take ten deep breaths and push back my spine (imagine Sensei being photographed!!!)
- Keeping that same outward pressure on my knees, I take twenty deep breaths as I slowly fold forward, rounding and loosening my spine – make sure to relax the back of your neck
- At the end of twenty breaths slowly come back up to a straight posture – at this point as the head comes up to natural position I count ten breaths as I lift my chin up as high as it can go
- At the end of ten breaths I slowly bring my chin back down and feel the back of my neck come in to line with my spine – Sensei makes the point about the importance of this slightly taut back of neck aligned with the spine
- For me, this is my most “correct posture” and I try to hold this posture in meditation
- this is important, and so in touch with our Aikido practice – the following are simply my tips:
training in meditation came from a Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Shambhala) that
was influenced by Zazen – the ideas are simple and work for me
- I start with just a short period
of time grounding myself in who I am, where I am, what is this particular
moment – I might say “Gary Snyder in Montana”, “Gary Snyder in early stages of
Coronavirus pandemic”, “Gary Snyder in early Spring” – or if I am back East
“Gary Snyder in New Jersey”
- I know this sounds corny but I like starting practice by grounding myself
- I then simply focus on my
- For me, this usually begins with a four count of breathing in, four count breathing out, and, importantly, feeling the rhythm of that four count
- Once I feel that rhythm, I don’t count, but feel that rhythm
- In an ideal world, that would be it – just breathe, watch your breath, feel the rhythm of your breath
- But in our real world (or mine, anyway), thoughts pop up in the head that distract us from just watching the breathing
- One of the best tools I have found is, when you find yourself thinking, to just label that thought, or experience, as “thinking” and let it go, and come back to the rhythm of your breathing. No matter what the thought is, label it “thinking” and let it go
- I start with just a short period of time grounding myself in who I am, where I am, what is this particular moment – I might say “Gary Snyder in Montana”, “Gary Snyder in early stages of Coronavirus pandemic”, “Gary Snyder in early Spring” – or if I am back East “Gary Snyder in New Jersey”
- And that is it – or at least more than enough to work with for a long time
- Further down the road, it is interesting to reflect on some of the Buddhist fundamentals, which suggest that thoughts occur out of three “places” or “drives” – moving away from something (my knees hurt, I am bored…), moving towards something (I need to return that email, want breakfast…) or ignorance…
- Ignorance is the most interesting (and by definition, disguised) one – but something that I will throw out is ignoring the beauty of the present moment – what it is, what it feels like – is an example of ignorance, and enjoying the present moment of meditation is its opposite
- An important thought on meditation – make it work for you. I bring my tea up with me, and drink from my tea cup from time to time over the course of my 23 minutes. Maybe I shouldn’t do this – but for me this is ok. Don’t be hard on yourself – be gentle
Kokikai Seiza Meditation
- another way to meditate is sit seiza with best Kokikai posture
- go through Four Basic principles and feel them in your body and mind
- Positive Mind is the “just breathing” and “letting go of thoughts” of meditation
This is my favorite Kokikai Ki Development exercise, and one that I do in many variations. Where as meditation is a sitting practice, Shomenuchi Undo is a standing, and, as I will suggest, walking practice.
I like Shomenuchi Undo for a number of reasons. The exercise seems to naturally set my body in to correct posture. For Kokikai Aikido, hands down by our side, relaxed and yet full of energy, is our “fighting” posture – in response to adversity we can then raise our arms properly, which is in many ways what this exercise teaches us.
Like my suggestions for meditation, these are “my tips and suggestions”. See if they work for you – feel free to tweak and try other things as well.
proper homni with one leg forward
- for me, I like to feel relaxed and centered, and when I shift back and forth, I like to feel my left and right hip joints in line with my left and right ankles, so as I shift back and forth, it feels like I am on a train track
and wrist posture is crucial
- Sensei sometimes talks about the feeling of “holding luggage” – if you imagine holding luggage, and then lifting the luggage off the floor, that is a correct feeling for hand and wrist – don’t change that
- As this is so important, I will
suggest two other ways to feel this
- Take a bokken in your hand – if in left homni left hand, right homni right hand
- Practice a one-handed sword strike
- This is a correct feeling for hand and wrist – don’t change it
- Another similar way to catch this feeling is take a small dumbbell – perhaps four pounds – and raise it so at the top the dumbbell is perfectly vertical – this is a correct feeling for hand and wrist – don’t change it
- With this proper hand and wrist, begin Shomenuchi Undo
Undo requires proper timing of upper body (arms rotating from shoulders) and
lower body (torso on top of hips on top of legs shifting back and forth)
- Sensei talks about feeling of “throwing ball up and letting it come down”
- From my experience, the most
common errors are
- Flipping elbows up so that at top back of wrist is more parallel to ground versus perpendicular
- At bottom taking back to far, so that too much time and effort are used to bring the arms back up
- Folding the arms too much on the upswing – I like the feeling of the arms more extended
- From my experience, the most common errors are
- I like feeling my shoulder joint, and the arm swinging freely from that shoulder joint
- I like feeling that my lower body, when weight shifting, is like a “well-oiled machine” and, again, that I am moving on train tracks
- Don’t forget that weight moves from back to front on up, then stays on front for down and moves back to meet bottom
- practice with the lightly closed fist (as if holding bokken or barbell) the whole time (versus traditional open at top and closed at bottom
- then practice more traditional open at top and closed at bottom
practice open at bottom and closed at top
- I practice this a lot, as I consider this my striking, or atemi, practice
- That exact position at top (as if holding dumbbell vertical) is a strong position for striking
- Most important, the timing of open to close at top allows for a quick and strong strike
- for myself, I like to inhale as arms go up – the feeling I have is almost like I am inhaling from my feet and toes and that energizes the upward motion
- practice this breathing for all three ways of doing Shomenuchi Undo (closed fist, open top, closed top)
- then reverse this breathing – exhale to top, inhale to bottom – when I do this, I have a particularly strong down feeling
- that is six ways to practice – three hand and wrist positions with two ways to breathe
- partly because I walk my dog a lot, partly because I like to hike, partly because I am now in Montana, and partly because I believe so strongly in the benefits of walking shomenuchi undo, I do it a lot
- it is difficult at first, which is one reason to try to get good at it – I believe it makes shomenuchi undo more natural
easiest way to start is with a four-count of breath
- start with left leg, left arm going up, and each step is one of the four counts – left, right, left, right – at end of four hands are fully raised (try to raise slowly)
- next four-count hands descend (left, right, left, right)
- get this feeling and this rhythm
- next is to move to a two-count – left foot, right foot raised arms, left foot right foot down arms
- once you get this down, switch starting homni
- with walking shomenuchi undo, you can practice four count and two count with the three different hand positions, two ways of breathing and two starting homnis!!!
A last suggestion – although this might happen naturally if you have begun meditation practice, consciously bring some of the practice of meditation into the practice of shomenuchi undo.
That’s more than enough for now!
I hope we can all find ways to grow our Aikido during this challenging time.
7th Dan, Kokikai Aikido
Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art that teaches coordination of mind and body to develop calmness in action and the strongest human condition. Aikido techniques can be effective without harming the attacker, which allows practice to be comfortable, and ethical self-defense to be an ideal.
The Kokikai method encourages students to realize their full potential in all activities of daily life through effective self-defense techniques. The development of inner strength (Ki power) increases physical and mental strength, improves mind-body coordination, and stimulates good health. Kokikai Aikido helps students build a secure foundation for a successful and fulfilling life both on and off the mat.
Sensei Shuji Maruyama
President and founder of Kokikai Aikido
Sensei Shuji Maruyama is Kokikai-Ryu Aikido’s Founder and President. Sensei Maruyama started his practice in Japan and through hard practice and dedicated effort realized martial arts awakening and founded the Kokikai Federation to disseminate his training method and its benefits to the world.
You can read more about Sensei’s story at kokikai.org.
Kokikai Aikido Principles
- Keep One Point to develop calmness
- Relax Progressively
- Find Correct Posture in everything
- Develop your Positive Mind
Kokikai Aikido has at its foundation the principles of one point and ki development as taught in Japan to Maruyama Sensei by both Aikido’s Founder Ueshiba and Tohei Sensei. Maruyama Sensei’s philosophy of minimum effort, maximum effect is the foundation of Kokikai Aikido, which has progressed the art of Aikido.
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